According to the Public Healthy Agency of Canada, the physical environment is an important determinant of health. At certain levels of exposure, contaminants in our air, water, food and soil can cause a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer, birth defects, respiratory illness and gastrointestinal ailments.
Air pollution has a significant association with health. Evidence of this is seen in the increase of childhood asthma, a respiratory disease that is highly sensitive to airborne contaminants. Childhood asthma has greatly increased over the past several decades, especially in the age group zero to five. It was estimated that some 13 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls aged zero to 19 (more than 890,000 children and young people) suffered from asthma in 1996 / 1997.
Another example is the excessive exposure to UV-B radiation in children and outdoor workers due to the reduced ozone layer. Continued exposure can cause sunburn, skin cancer, depression of the immune system, and an increased risk of developing cataracts.
In the built environment, factors related to housing, indoor air quality, and the design of communities and transportation systems can significantly influence our physical and psychological well-being. The World Health Organization (WHO) list many physical determinants of transportation, housing, and their designs to health. Here are just a few:
- Accidents between motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians (particularly children and young people)
- Noise from transportation
- Psychosocial effects such as severance of communities by large roads and the restriction of children’s movement.
- Improved physical activity from cycling or walking
- Recreational uses of road spaces
- Improvements in housing and improved mental health and general health
- The possibility of improved housing leading to rent rises, impacting negatively on health.
- Housing tenure, outdoor temperature, indoor air quality, dampness, housing design, rent subsidies, relocation, allergens and dust mites, home accident prevention, and fire prevention.
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2013). What Makes Canadians Healthy or Unhealthy? Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ph-sp/determinants/determinants-eng.php
World Health Organization. (n.d.). The Determinants of Health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/hia/evidence/doh/en/index2.html